Celebrating National Principals Month: Wesley Pounders, Muscle Shoals City

Wesley Pounders
Highland Park Elementary
Muscle Shoals City Schools

Wesley Pounders has lived his entire life in Alabama, and comes from a family of educators. His dad was a high school biology teacher, and his mom taught sixth grade math. His sister was an elementary teacher and librarian “before surrendering to the ministry.” His wife Heather is a third grade math teacher. The Pounders have two sons, Jax (6) and Sawyer (2).

Wesley earned a degree in Mathematical Optimization and Computer Science from the University of Alabama and taught secondary math for seven years. He was a middle school assistant principal for one year and has been the head principal at Highland Park Elementary School in Muscle Shoals City for the last four years. He enjoys sports and spending time with his family, and Wesley and his wife teach the engaged/newlyweds class at Highland Park Baptist Church.

How long have you been a principal?

This is my fifth year to serve as a principal.

Briefly describe your educational journey?

I was one semester from graduating at the University of Alabama with a double degree in Computer Engineering and Mathematics. I was working in the Quality Engineering Department at Mercedes Benz U.S. International when I decided that engineering was not the field for me.

I finished my degree and was hired on an emergency certificate to teach math at Athens High School, and that’s when I figured out that education was where I was meant to be. I have since finished my Master’s and Ed.S. in Instructional Leadership, and I plan to start my Doctorate in the spring.

What are 2-3 insights you would share with others who want to become principals?

Being a principal is more than a job, it is a calling. If your reasoning for becoming a principal is to increase your salary and boss people around, then I would recommend an alternate career path. Being a principal is about serving others and using the larger circle of influence that comes with the job to positively impact and support the people within your circle rather than promote yourself.

I would also suggest that emerging principals learn to be process oriented rather than results driven. To summarize Nick Saban, you do not focus on the National Championship. You focus on the next play, and the National Championship will take care of itself. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a dream.

What keeps you up at night and gets you out of bed in the morning?

My “To-Do List” can keep me up sometimes. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I tend to cycle the things I need to do through my brain on repeat until I get them done. I have found that if I write them down, then I do not have to worry about forgetting them and it makes it easier to go to sleep. The key word in the previous statement was “worry.” Worrying is dwelling on things that are out of your control. It comes from a lack of faith and yields nothing positive.

If worry keeps you up at night, take comfort in knowing the battle has already been won. Do your best, and that is all anyone can ask of you. My faith and the hope that I can impact someone’s life for the better is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

What is your favorite leadership book (or books)?

Not to sound cliché, but the Bible is my favorite book on leadership. Jesus Christ was the perfect example of a servant leader. If you put loving and serving others in front of your own selfish desires, people will follow you. Remember, if no one is following, then you are not a leader, and people do not follow job titles.

Through my training with the Alabama Best Practices Center, a book that has really helped shape the vision for my school has been Ron Berger’s Leaders of Their Own Learning. I am a firm believer in fostering internal motivation in students, and I believe this book establishes a plan to do just that.

In order to provide mastery experiences for each student, which are extremely important for fostering internal motivation, you must have students take ownership of their own learning and set goals for themselves, and train teachers to formatively assess and differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student and help them accomplish those goals.

What are 2-3 essential skills that all leaders should possess?

PEOPLE SKILLS. This job is all about working with people. You can turn a mountain into a molehill or vice-versa, all depending on how you deal with people. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of people skills.

People skills could also be subdivided to highlight communication skills. Being able to communicate effectively (which involves what you say, how you say it, when you say it, your tone, your body language, etc.) is paramount in order to be an effective leader.

I would also say “empathy” is another essential. Most probably wouldn’t call empathy a skill, but in order to be an effective leader I think it is very important for you to put yourself in the shoes of the student, parent, or teacher you are dealing with before you make a decision. This is a skill that is vastly underutilized in our society as a whole. Every chance we get, we should help our students grow more empathetic.